On this week’s episode I’m talking to Erin Geraghty, who is a yoga therapist, recovery coach, and yoga studio owner. She is the author of the book Thriving After Addiction and has a podcast with the same name. Today, we are talking about addiction, eating disorders, overworking, and how all these things can go hand in hand.
Although not everyone with addiction struggles with an eating disorder (and vice versa), we’re talking about the different ways in which we cope, dissociate from our emotions, avoid uncomfortable feelings, and how to identify these patterns so we can finally reconnect with ourselves.
There’s a common narrative that goes on with eating disorders, disordered eating, and diet recovery that says if you learn how to deal with your emotions, you’re never allowed to cope again. That’s not the case at all. Erin sheds light on this, talks about how she connects with herself, and some of the tools she uses for herself and her clients.
Even if you don’t have a history of addiction or dealing with loved ones who have, you’re going to get a lot out of this conversation.
Before You Read
There are a lot of sensitive topics in this episode, including addiction to pills, binging, purging, and abuse. If any of these topics are triggering or put you in a headspace that is unhealthy, please skip this episode and take care of yourself first.
An Announcement: My Book Deal!
If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’ll know that I signed a book deal! Victory Bell Publishing signed me on to write their first anti-diet book, which is all about emotional eating. It’s going to be due in April and I’m starting in January, so it’ll be a really intense 4 months. That being said, I’ve been dreaming of writing a book for so long, but I thought I would have to wait and get more recognition before that happened.
What I’ve learned is that the universe is really good at throwing curveballs and challenges before you’re ready and turning you into the person who is ready, or at least the person who does it even if you don’t feel ready. I’m definitely being called to step up and grow into the next version of myself, which has already been a huge theme for me in 2019.
I will be limiting my 1:1 clients starting in February, so I’m trying to do as many clarity calls as I can right now. If you’re interested in 1:1 coaching but you’ve been waiting till the time is right, now is that time! I promise you that even if it seems scary, it’s not as scary as you’re making it out to be. If you want to go out to eat without worrying, buy clothes without freaking out about the size, and ultimately clear out the brain space taken up by dieting so you can focus on what matters, this is for you. Apply for a clarity call at whitneycatalano.com/book and we will schedule something as soon as possible.
This podcast is brought to you officially by Club TYB!
Club TYB is your ‘food freedom family.’ It’s a Facebook group and a membership site where not only do you get a ton of access to me and my assistant Lindsay, but also a ton of support from all the other Club TYB members. You get weekly journaling prompts, affirmations, the opportunity to celebrate your wins, and 2x monthly live calls from myself and various specialist guests.
When you join Club TYB you’ll get all of that as well as access to the entire archive of videos and questions I’ve answered for the group.
The 5 Pillars Of Food Freedom
If you’re looking for even more information than what you get from my podcast, Instagram, and website, then The 5 Pillars Of Food Freedom mini course is your next stop!
In this program, I cover:
- The foundations of food freedom
- What it means to give yourself unconditional permission
- How to connect with your hunger and fullness cues
- How to stop emotional eating and why you do it
- What kind of mindset you need to cultivate for food freedom
- How to identify the diet mentality (and how to get rid of it)
- Health At Every Size and how to prioritize health while healing your relationship with food
This mini course provides so much information and value, so I’m really excited for you to dive into it. Head over to whitneycatalano.com/pillars to get started.
Erin grew up in a karate dojo. She was always into sports, but she was especially drawn to karate because the full contact made her feel alive.
All her life, Erin had felt numb and disconnected. Her Mom struggled with pills and bulimia and her Dad was a workaholic, so she picked up how to numb from a very early age. When the adrenaline and endorphins ran out from martial arts, she still needed a numbing device. For this reason, Erin got into pills and started drinking. A lot.
Fast forward into her later teens, Erin started noticing boys as well as her Mom’s obsession with diet pills. They were always in the house- she could open up any cabinet and find them. Learned from her Mom, Erin’s obsession with diet pills began as a way to change her body in the way that men wanted.
Not long after, Erin became very thin due to all of her physical activity, the pills, and her extremely restrictive diet. It wasn’t uncommon that she would get really tired and crash.
Fast forward to college, she was a wreck. Once the effect of the diet pills wore off, she started binging and purging, which led to a 12 year struggle with bulimia. This was yet another coping mechanism and Erin’s way of dealing with feelings that she had no idea how to deal with. Erin had no idea how to access her chaotic thoughts other than hitting and being hit during karate.
Erin’s Rock Bottom
In her early adult life, Erin lived in Japan teaching English and women’s self-defence. She qA miserable. Her fiancee had flown over and they were relying on her income, so she was not only following her Mother’s patterning with the restriction, but also her Father’s pattern of overworking.
Because she was so busy and purging so often, Erin relied on Adderall to keep her going. She remembers one lunch break when she went to the convenience store to buy the biggest beer she could find because she just couldn’t handle the stress anymore. Later that day, she went to McDonalds, had 3 Big Macs, and threw it up. The next morning, Erin realized that was her bottom.
Not long after, Erin found a yoga DVD that her Dad had gotten her for Christmas. She decided that she wanted to look like the girl in the video, so she popped it in the player. She skipped through the intro to the parts where it looked like they were working up a sweat. After the practice, Erin was lying on her mat when she had a moment where her body lost all tension. She softened, and felt warmth fill her up. That was the first time she experienced God. She could breathe deeper, and felt like she could cry. It felt like there was something touching deep inside of her that she normally had to reach through pain. Although that only lasted for 5 minutes, she wanted it back right away.
Addicts are addicted to that feeling of dopamine. Once they get that pop, it’s very typical for an addict to get obsessive. So, Erin became obsessive with yoga.
Fast forward, Erin moved from Japan to Florida. She started a personal training practice that included yoga, and eventually opened up her own yoga studio. During that time she also became a life coach, got more advanced yoga certifications, and finally opened up a second yoga studio.
Workaholism And Overwhelm
It’s very common for perfectionists and workaholics to experience eating disorders.
Erin still struggles with workaholic tendencies. To cope with that, she frequently checks in with herself using symptom markers to track her behaviours. One of her markers is losing her keys all the time, or if her car is really messy. That’s how she knows she’s in a cycle of overwhelm.
When you’re overwhelmed, it’s hard to make sense of all the things going on around you. So, Erin has a checklist with herself. Losing her keys and having a messy car are two symptoms of the bigger picture of not taking care of herself.
Eating Disorders, Addiction, and Overworking
Eating disorders and addiction all come from a place of having pain that is not addressed under the surface. People have trauma, belief systems, and all these other things that cause us to feel blocked. We can’t touch that space inside us, so it comes out as a coping mechanism.
For Erin, her coping was a reflection of her Mom’s eating stuff and her Dad’s working stuff. Healing from these things is a daily effort towards showing up for herself. The common thread with eating disorders and addictions is that it’s not about the substance, it’s about the pain.
I get questions all the time about whether alcohol can fit into intuitive eating. In my opinion, the answer is yes, but it’s all about intention. If you’re using alcohol to suppress pain and avoid, that’s a different story. But if it’s just a social thing that you enjoy and you’re not using it to escape or numb, then that’s a healthy relationship with alcohol (although amounts do play into this as well). It’s not the frequency as much as it is the intention.
After being off alcohol for 2 ½ years, she started studying other people drinking to learn how to socially drink. Once she was comfortable with being in her body and she liked herself more, Erin’s intention with alcohol was no longer to numb out and avoid. She started to notice how her body would change subtly with each sip when she really paid attention. It was so much better than getting super drunk and numbing out, because she got to experience herself in different ways.
Once her relationship with herself healed, she could finally heal her relationship with her food and alcohol. People are surprised that now, Erin can have alcohol. She says this is because it was never about the alcohol- it was the pain underneath.
With food too, at different times your body will want different things. Sometimes it’ll want salads and smoothies, and sometimes it’ll want pretzels. But if you go for those pretzels with the intention that you want to numb and not feel your feelings, you’ll fall into a binge cycle. When the intention is that you love and care about yourself, then food is just food.
Your body reads the energy you have going into a meal.
If you’re overcome with fear, anxiety, and stress, your body is sending off red alert signals that something is wrong. So, it goes into defence mode. If you’re sitting down for the exact same thing but you’re in a peaceful place or enjoying yourself, your body processes it differently.
When Erin started healing from her addiction, she was able to start healing from her eating disorder, and vice versa. She eliminated alcohol, and at the same time also learned how to slow down and be with herself when she was eating. When she first tried to do that, she didn’t realize how anxious she was when she was cooking; she was in a fear cycle. So when she was preparing food for herself, her body was preparing for her to fill it up and then empty it out.
When Erin learned how to slow down and be with her food and be present, she actually started developing a relationship with it. If you’re going so fast and not paying attention to the details of it, how are you supposed to have a relationship with it? Erin She attributes this slowing down to yoga; that was where she learned how to breathe and slow down.
I have a personal relationship with Alcoholics Anonymous because my Dad struggled with addiction for so many years. I’ve always felt that the 12 step program is missing something, which is teaching people how to deal with their emotions.
People can get stuck in their story. It’s cathartic to talk about it, because your truth needs to be told. But at a certain point, your body doesn’t know the difference between telling the story and being in those feelings or actually experiencing it again. After a while, Erin no longer felt it was productive to go through that loop over and over again.
If you’re spinning in a trauma story loop, that’s not truly healing. To heal, you have to release from the story you have in your head by going into your heart to find what’s underneath that pain. What caused it? Rather than treating the symptoms, treat the source.
AA, NA, and OA work for some people, but not everyone. Some people go through and may heal the addiction, but then can’t maintain a healthy relationship, show up to a job they’re passionate about, or they can’t really dream. When you’re stuck in that story and fear cycle, you can’t access those deeper parts of you. When Erin started yoga, it was the first time she was able to get outside of her pain story and access her deeper parts.
Getting Out Of The Fear Cycle
When you’re so stuck in a fear cycle and your ego is running the show, it’s hard to comprehend that something else exists. It’s so bizarre thinking of a younger version of myself that was so ego driven. Everything that was out of my control was an attack. It was how I felt, but I didn’t know that at the time.
Pranayama Breathwork Exercise
To slow down and process emotions, Erin recommends getting in tune with your breath through Pranayama breathwork.
Try it out: start with taking 3 regular breaths. On the third inhale, hold it, lift the ribs, and lift the pelvic floor (light a light kegel or stopping the flow or urine). Repeat this at least 3 times.
Working with the breath is so magical because it hacks the nervous system and allows your body to release almost instantly.
Letting Go Of Coping Mechanisms
There are different reasons why it’s so hard to let go of underlying coping mechanisms. Pain is an obvious answer. On the surface level, people could be exercising and drinking 10 glasses of water, but there could still be that pain underneath. If you’re just living in shame, guilt, or anger all the time, it’s exhausting.
Erin looks at these things with compassion, which softens everything a bit. Even if you’re doing everything you should, you might still have that pain. If you’re not connecting to where that pain really exists, then it will always still be there. There comes a certain point that you have to start loving yourself and letting go.
When you’re in the throws of addiction, it’s like you’re talking to the drug. If you haven’t learned to handle your pain a little bit, it’s not going to work. Erin teaches people how to do that, but it’ll still bring stuff up that’s hard to deal with. Effort only gets you so far. You can be firm, strong, and tough, but there’s a softness that needs to happen in order to truly get there.
Navigating Relationships With People Living With Addiction
When navigating this with her Mother and brother, Erin learned to love from a distance, without enabling them. This is really challenging in a relationship with an addict, because the drug or alcohol is controlling their brain and they get manipulative.
Strong boundaries are necessary, and with that comes loving at a distance. The more love you can put out in the world, the better. You can choose to love them, and from a place of love, set boundaries that come with firm consequences. When you give that firm love and hang up the phone on them, leave, or separate yourself, that allows them to dig out their own resources. To do that, you have to be okay with them them suffer sometimes, but it’s out of love. That is really, really hard, but giving that loving space with firm boundaries is all you can really do.
Erin Colleen Geraghty is a yoga therapist, recovery coach, and yoga studio owner. She’s the author of the book, “Thriving After Addiction” and the host of a podcast by the same name. She’s a passionate yogi, roller derby queen, black belt in Shotokan karate, and for fun practices Japanese and Singing.
Work with me:
- Apply for a clarity call: whitneycatalano.com/book
- Join Club TYB: WhitneyCatalano.com/Club-TYB
- 5 Pillars of Food Freedom: WhitneyCatalano.com/pillars
This post was transcribed and edited by Brittany Allison, Intuitive Eating Counsellor. You can find her on Instagram @thefoodfreedomlife.